Donald Trelford On The Press
News on the Telegraph: Bryant is settling in for a marathon stint
Monday 19 December 2005
ournalists on The Daily Telegraph should know something important about John Bryant, who has been their editor as well as their editor-in-chief since Martin Newland's surprise resignation last month - he's a marathon man.
The press speculation that followed Newland's departure - including odds on a variety of runners and riders for the supposedly vacant editor's chair - is now looking decidedly premature. One of Bryant's oldest friends tells me: "He's having the time of his life and won't be seeking a successor any time soon."
At 63, Bryant knows he can't go on indefinitely, but he appears to be settling into his stride for a long-distance run. In personal terms, this is understandable, as his two previous editorships, at The European and The Sunday Correspondent, were too brief as the papers sank beneath him.
From the Telegraph's point of view, too, it makes sense to have a period of stability under a reliable old pro. Some of the paper's rough edges have been smoothed out (though those over-projected business by-line pictures need toning down). Bryant had a personal triumph with the exclusive pictures of the world's first face transplant. When the paper's front page was shown on the TV news bulletins, the back bench broke out in applause - a rare moment of relief for a newsroom weighed down by redundancies, budget cuts, a change of editor and the arrival of a bewildering series of highly paid "star" writers who were evidently appointed by the management.
Giving a number of these new recruits a hierarchical badge as "joint deputy editor" or "associate editor" served only to muddle the chain of command. Bryant, a genial West Countryman, will not be overawed, as Newland seemed to be, by a heavyweight political figure such as Simon Heffer. It was Bryant who cut through the paper's dithering over the Tory leadership contest, personally penning the enthusiastic pro-Cameron leader. In his last job at the Daily Mail, where he was highly regarded, he was involved in leader-writing, features and sport - though having an editor who knows about sport can be a tiresome burden for a sports editor, as I was frequently reminded on The Observer.
The Telegraph's journalists now know that any future appointments will require Bryant's approval, and that they have an editor who commands the support of the management and the owners. An editor who lacks such support, as Newland did (and as I did for too long on The Observer) has to keep looking constantly over his shoulder, with the result that he takes his eye off the ball.
Bryant worked with the chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, at Associated Newspapers and also knew Aidan Barclay at The European. One can expect some major promotional spending behind the paper in the spring - and not before time, as the Telegraph has rarely punched its full weight as a market leader.
Bryant's background, especially his time as a senior editorial figure on The Times, deflects any criticism that his arrival from the Daily Mail signalled a "dumbing down". The fact is that the Telegraph has been targeting Mail readers since the time of Max Hastings.
Like all editors, Bryant will ultimately be judged on results. If the circulation falls below 900,000, or the gap closes with The Times, he will be politely urged to find his successor. The two most commonly talked about are Jon Steafel of the Daily Mail, who turned down the deputy editorship but might find it harder to decline the top job, and 32-year-old Will Lewis, recently recruited from The Sunday Times to run the business section and regarded by many as the most ambitious young man in Fleet Street. Bryant has high-level contacts throughout the national press, so he might well spring a surprise when the time comes.
Meanwhile, he cannot put off for long the key decision facing the Telegraph: whether to join its rivals by slimming down to tabloid size (the sports section, for which I write a monthly column, has already gone down that route). Bryant says he hasn't even had time to think about it. I wouldn't mind betting, though, that the subject will be right at the front of his mind on his regular morning jog around Canary Wharf.
IF I WERE Andrew Neil (and thank the Lord I'm not, sir), I would choose a woman to succeed Boris Johnson at The Spectator. My preferred candidates would be Cristina Odone or Anne McElvoy.
British Press Awards could yet slip from Gazette's grip
DESPITE Press Gazette's confident announcement about the British Press Awards, I understand that a number of papers - including the Telegraph, Mail and Express groups - have still not made up their minds to take part. The Guardian, as is its wont, is also dithering. These papers remain unhappy about the involvement of the trade paper's new owners, spin doctor Matthew Freud (who is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter) and Piers Morgan, left, the controversial share-dealer. Although the so-called Editors' Forum voted narrowly (13-10) to give the new owners a chance, those who voted against have called another meeting in the new year to see if they can form a united front. If they fail, they might decide to look for another body to organise the awards - the British Journalism Review and the London Press Club have both been mentioned.
John Bryant, far left, is reportedly 'having the time of his life' editing the 'Telegraph'. The much-touted successor Will Lewis, left, could fill his position should sales slide
Donald Trelford was editor of 'The Observer', 1975-93
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